Industry roundtable: will new nuclear benefit the UK?

Nuclear power is high on the agenda for the UK Government, with a spate of projects planned in the coming years. But just how beneficial will it be to the country? Industry experts offer their views to Scarlett Evans 


The plans have come under fire from some activists and think tanks, which stress that projects such as Hinkley Point C are too expensive and the money should instead be invested in cheaper, greener options. Others see nuclear as an asset to the nation’s power mix, viewing it as a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels with a number of economic benefits. 

Here, industry experts answer the question: ‘Will new nuclear power benefit the UK?’

Aerial view of Hinkley Point C. Credit: EDF Energy

Simon Stuttaford, nuclear consultant, DWF

“New nuclear plants absolutely spell high-quality employment opportunities and an economy boost that will materialise over several generations. Around 60,000 new jobs and an investment of £110bn are expected for the economy. With its nuclear sector deal the government has made a tangible commitment to the future of nuclear, as the nuclear sector deal aims to maximise the economic opportunities created by the sector.

“Coal is going out of fashion – particularly after we survived without coal power for three days in a row last year. As a reliable and secure baseload, I would expect nuclear to gradually replace coal and other fossil fuels over the next 10-20 years, and to become the UK’s main source of energy.”

Dr Ian Fairlie, member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s National Council

“The reality is that we don’t need new nuclear. As many studies indicate, renewables will do the job. 

“The economics of nuclear are dire, with the cost of renewables steadily falling whereas those of new nuclear are always rising. Hinkley C would cost over £21bn if it were ever finished, while new offshore wind turbines are already supplying electricity at less than half the estimated cost of electricity of the mooted Hinkley C station if it were ever built. 

“Some nuclear proponents think that nuclear is the answer to climate change. But nuclear lifecycle analyses prove the contrary, as uranium mining and milling are highly carbon-intensive.

“Additionally, even after 50 years’ research, no government has found a sure-fire way of keeping nuclear’s dangerous waste safe for hundreds of thousands of years. Finally, there is the incontrovertible evidence in over 40 studies of raised levels of childhood leukemia near nuclear reactors worldwide. 

“We don’t need nuclear. It’s unsafe, uneconomic, and it creates dangerous waste. Much better alternatives are already here. Nuclear can hardly be said to be a benefit to the UK, more like a serious detriment to us and to future generations.”

David Cameron addresses Hinkley B workers. Credit: Crown Copyright

Ann Rostern, associate director for nuclear, WSP

“Nuclear must form a part of a balanced mix of UK energy resources. It is a clean energy source without which we would not be able to meet our clean energy commitments and unlike some of the renewable technologies, it is sustainable. 

“We welcome the government’s ambitious plans, though we understand the issues facing the nuclear industry now and in the future, such as the high cost of implementation. Significant factors in the cost of new build are the decommissioning and waste management strategies. The UK has much to learn from the early power stations, especially at Sellafield, where innovative techniques such as robotics are being used successfully to characterise and manage the waste stored there in silos and ponds.

“If investment into innovations, upskilling and the new infrastructure is coupled with the learning to be had from the first new nuclear power station being built at Hinkley Point, it is possible to pave the way to realising the aspirations of the Nuclear Sector Deal. The challenge will be to drive a return from this investment in the desired timescales, which is in only 12 years’ time.”

Kirsty Gogan, co-founder, Energy for Humanity

“If our goal is to enable all people in the UK to live safe, comfortable, healthy lives, whilst at the same time protecting nature, then nuclear energy has a lot to offer. 

“New clean capacity is needed to replace ageing infrastructure, and maintain reliable and affordable supply all year around. Beyond the power sector, nuclear technology can also help us clean up transport through the production of synthetic fuels, as well as making process heat for industry, such as steel and glass, and hydrogen for our gas networks. 

“One of the clear advantages nuclear offers is that it is more than one million times denser than coal. This means the whole lifecycle impact is incredibly low – similar to wind in terms of whole lifecycle carbon emissions – but also has a tiny land footprint in operation, with no air pollution at all.

“Cost and schedule over-runs remain a barrier. In order for nuclear energy to continue contributing in the UK, the industry must follow the example set by low cost nuclear programmes elsewhere in the world, and wind and solar everywhere, and drive down costs.”

Wylfa Newydd. Credit: Department of Energy and Climate Change

Dr Tom Steward, energy policy analyst, Good Energy 

“Good Energy’s goal is a fully renewable future. That future will involve a range of technologies, of different scales, geographically spread, working in tandem with storage and demand-side response, to make the most of the natural resources available. It’s a world based on technologies which are getting cheaper by the day, and where citizens are engaged with – or maybe even own – where their energy comes from.

“Currently, nuclear power is pushing in the opposite direction to this. The plants we have in the UK are large, centralised, centrally owned, and inflexible. Creating an energy system which works for both nuclear power and renewables is therefore expensive and challenging.

“Add in the cost of new nuclear, which for Hinkley C runs to in excess of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games five times over, and it is difficult to see how nuclear factors into a cleaner greener energy future.”

Leon Flexman, corporate affairs director, Horizon Nuclear Power

“Faced with the challenge of decarbonising the economy, new nuclear has a fundamental role to play if we are serious about meeting our climate change commitments and securing a low-carbon future. 

“The nuclear industry also delivers major economic benefits across the UK with over 65,000 employees and £6.4bn of GDP, a similar size to the entire aerospace sector. Employment within the industry is predicted to grow by over 40% as new build progresses, and our Wylfa Newydd project alone will see a peak workforce of some 9,000 at construction.

“At the same time, we recognise that replacing the UK’s ageing energy infrastructure cannot be achieved without some cost. As an industry, working alongside government, we are fully committed to driving down the costs of nuclear through the supply chain and cost of capital. This commitment has been reflected in the Nuclear Sector Deal announced recently that puts nuclear at the heart of the government’s Industrial Strategy setting out how we will work together over the coming years.”

Dr Jonathan Cobb, senior communication manager, World Nuclear Association

“New nuclear build will bring great benefits to the UK by providing secure and reliable electricity generation and enabling the country to meet its sustainable development objectives.

“Nuclear energy has supplied the UK with electricity for more than 60 years and is a key part of the UK’s current and future low-carbon energy supply. The UK has seen a dramatic reduction in the use of coal-fired power generation in recent years. Renewables and nuclear generation in combination now supply more than half of the UK’s electricity, but gas is still the UK’s largest generation source.

“The most effective way to achieve deep decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity generation mix will be by using nuclear energy’s reliable 24/7 electricity generation in combination with more variable low-carbon sources, along with demand-side management and energy storage.”

Cover image credit: Thomas Koch/Shutterstock